ACCESS DENIED:

Continuing The Battle For Equal Access To Dayton's RTA   

The elderly and people with disabilities make up a considerable part of RTA's ridership. The groups accounted for 1 in every 10 rides the transit system sold in 2011.

By Jeremy Wiedle

April 15, 2015

38 percent of Americans circle a parking lot twice before choosing a space.  The finding - among others from a CarInsurance.com survey last year - described this driving percentile as “vultures.” Weaving through lanes, they search for the closest parking spot and the shortest walk. Another 24 percent admitted to “stalking,” following people with bags and carts then waiting for them to pack up and leave.

Valet parking startup, Luxe Valet, promises to eliminate the impatient driver’s parking-lot problem. Already operating in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the company takes transportation convenience a step further for vehicle owners. A call to one of their California offices yields a personal valet; one who will pick up and drop off the caller’s personal car, whenever and wherever. Parking on demand, as their website states. 

Convenience is king. Especially, when it comes to getting around.

Anyone can appreciate the advantages of a front-row parking space or a personal valet. But these conveniences are contingent upon others often taken for granted - namely, a functioning vehicle and a driver’s license. Vehicle ownership is expensive and a driver’s license can only be issued to those physically capable of driving. Monetary and physical requirements applied, and the luxury that is driving becomes more apparent. 

For those unable to freely get behind the wheel there is public transportation. In the Miami Valley, this is the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority - RTA. With 650 employees the publicly funded authority is the fourth largest public transit system in Ohio. In 2012, it reported giving over 10 million rides. 

While covering a 274 square-mile area, the system working to provide reliable, accessible transportation, now faces an access problem of it’s own. One affecting all its riders, including the elderly and people with disabilities, both of whom accounted for 1.4 million - over 1 in 10 - rides in 2012

RTA at the Dayton Mall

The current RTA stop at the Dayton Mall sits at the back of a parking lot, over 500 feet from the mall's south entrance. There is no sidewalk at the stop, forcing bus passengers to walk through parking lanes.

Fixed in the back corner of a large parking lot, the RTA stop at the Dayton Mall isn't much to look at. Broken pieces from one of the stop’s two benches embody failed negotiations on improvement. Trash and cigarette disposal cans form a wall distinguishing bus stop from back-lot parking space.

No sidewalk connects the mall entrance to the stop. The grassy curb behind it runs the length of the parking area, making the only available route through the parking lot. Map My Walk, a smartphone app which tracts walking distance, puts the bus stop at approximately 515 feet from the mall’s south entrance.

With end zones, an American football field measures 320 feet.

Distance is only one obstacle riders face. The parking lot separating the bus stop from the mall entrance rarely fills to capacity. Leader’s for Equality and Action in Dayton - L.E.A.D., highlights the empty space is frequently sped through, creating a hazard for the bus riding community.

L.E.A.D. is a regional non-profit that combines local spiritual leaders and Daytonians to address low-income and working class issues in Dayton. They argue both shoppers and workers rely on the transit system to get ahead.

Greater Dayton’s RTA recognizes the inconvenience - and danger - the stop creates for its passengers. RTA executives first met with L.E.A.D. in the Spring of 2010 to discuss the problems posed by the Dayton Mall stop. This same meeting also addressed the lack of RTA stops in Beavercreek near the Mall at Fairfield Commons. An issue L.E.A.D. now considers a victory. 

In 2013, due in part to L.E.A.D.’s activism, Beavercreek City Council approved three RTA bus stops along Pentagon Boulevard. Earlier, the council had rejected the construction of the stops. After the federal government found their rejection violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, council agreed to the measure in a 5-2 vote.

The federal government cited the disproportionate use of RTA buses by minorities. Council members were told to revisit the decision or risk loosing $10 million in federal highway funding.

Proposing Change

Protesters with L.E.A.D. stand at the current RTA bus stop at the Dayton Mall. 

Since work on this story began last month, the broken bench pieces have been replaced. Two new beams were installed on one bench just before a L.E.A.D. protest late last month. A faint yellow paint now colors both; minor improvements compared to the drastic changes first proposed by mall manager WP Glimcher in 2010.

Shorty after RTA and L.E.A.D.’s early 2010 meeting, the transit system relayed community concerns of safety and distance to Glimcher. Later that Fall, the company sent RTA their first proposal for a new bus stop at the Dayton Mall. It failed to make the stop any closer, but it did address safety. Improvements would include the addition of three covered benches, a turnaround for RTA buses, and a sidewalk connecting the waiting area to the front entrance crosswalk.

Frank Ecklar, Director of Marketing and Planning at RTA, says concessions like distance had to be made. 

Broken timbers lay beneath one of the stops two benches. They were replaced before a L.E.A.D. protest late last month.

“What was really positive about this, even though it wasn’t completely close to the doors, at least it gained some momentum for us. This turnaround created a separation which was very important for pedestrians to not be involved in crossing that ring road.”

Ecklar says RTA responded to the proposal with interest, but expressed reservation at the “significant” $700,000 to $800,000 price tag. The transit authority was prepared to leverage federal dollars for the construction of the new stop through transit enhancement funding. With taxpayer money at stake, the project needed to be cost effective.

“We told Glimcher, you know, to use tax dollars, federal dollars, to build something like that, we’d like to take you’re plan, thank you for this design. We’ll work with you on it, on this mold of clay you’ve given us,” Ecklar says.

But nothing happened; and only Columbus-headquartered Glimcher knows why.

Ecklar says, “I don’t know what happened when we got to that point, but I think they realized we were really serious.”

In February of 2012 Glimcher informed RTA the proposal was off the table, explaining they did not have approval from anchor stores to construct the original design proposed a year earlier. Anchors cited the potential loss of parking space. Ecklar and others at RTA are confused why the plan was presented at all.

“What we thought was some positive momentum was basically, just, squashed,” Ecklar says.

With loss of parking a prime concern, Glimcher, in their response to RTA, presented a design that moved the stop further east of its current location. The proposal eliminated one of the four bays from RTA’s plan and kept the stop in the back of the parking lot near the intersection of Lyons Ridge and Mall Ring Road.

RTA responded with three additional proposals that limited the loss of parking. One included the original position of the RTA stop before it was moved away from the mall, placing it along the building’s curb and leave parking spaces untouched.

Another proposed a small stop at the front of the parking lot, on the other side of the crosswalk. It would allow busses to come up through the parking lot and pick up passengers at the front of the mall. Again, the plan prevented a major loss of parking space. Space that LEAD argues is never filled.

Glimcher is not satisfied with any RTA proposal. Earlier this year, the company informed RTA that the transit authority’s only option for a new stop was in an area further east of the mall in the back of the same parking lot.

Specific questions to WP Glimcher went unanswered. Dayton Mall Manager, Dave Duebber, provided this statement on behalf of the company,

“WP Glimcher has worked diligently with all parties to identify a new location designated for a bus service at Dayton Mall and have done our part in moving this process forward. It is with RTA as to whether they want to take advantage of this designated area.”

  One of the proposals submitted by RTA to Glimcher shows a plan to bring buses to the mall entrance. Leaving parking space undisturbed, the proposed location would allow passengers to board and exit in front of the mall. Glimcher responded with a proposal that put the stop further from the south entrance.

Americans with Disability Act: 25 Years Later

Greg Kramer is the Executive Director of the Dayton Access Center. The center is joining LEAD in an effort to legally challenge Glimcher on the current bus stop.

Kramer says, “We’re going to be celebrating the 25th anniversary this year of the signing of the ADA and we’re still dealing with barriers like this.”

The ADA - Americans with Disabilities Act - was signed into law in 1990. It safeguards a host of rights and accessibility requirements for public facilities. Since public dollars could be used in completing whatever project is agreed upon, the next stop must be compliant with current ADA specifications.

Activists are now working with a group of Columbus lawyers to identify Glimcher’s violations of the law. While no exact distance for a stop is provided under the law, LEAD and the Access Center believe they have a strong case - given the opportunity lawyers have to build upon the Pentagon Boulevard decision.

 LEAD board member, Ronnie Moreland, says Glimcher’s hesitancy to put the stop along the mall is due 

“They solved that issue. They came up with rules and standards to fix that. Since then, they still hold RTA accountable to leaving the bus stops where they are. They never re-adjusted.”

He finishes, “The security of our citizens has got to be of the upmost priority. So whether they come by car or bus, I believe it is their responsibility [Glimcher] to ensure there is a convenient way to come to the mall.”

At the Access Center, Greg Kramer, says this is an issue affecting everyone, not just the current group advocating for accessibility at the Dayton Mall.

He says, “A disability is a natural part of life. You don’t know from one minute to the next, what’s going to happen to you. You could be in an accident and be in a wheel chair the very next day.”

A diving accident at the age of 15 left Kramer a quadriplegic.

“It can happen to anybody at anytime, and until your faced with it, you don’t really deal with it. But we [people with disabilities] deal with it everyday.”

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